Child and Custody Support Law

Child and custody support law helps determine court-ordered support payment when two parents are no longer living together. The parent who is not living with or raising the children will be required to pay child support because it is in the best interest of any child to have financial support from both. For this reason, child support payments can be ordered even when a parent does not have contact with their children.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Feb 18, 2021

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Child support is a form of support payment that is often ordered when two parents are no longer living together. It is in the best interest of any child to have financial support from both.

It is also sound public policy to require that parents support their children so those children do not become wards of the state or otherwise dependent upon state-run welfare or support programs.

Child support may be ordered even in instances where a dad or mom does not have contact with his or her child unless that person has legally surrendered parental rights with the permission of both the court and the other parent.

Who pays child support?

Child support is paid by one parent to the other after separation or divorce when they have a common child. Normally, the non-custodial parent makes a payment of child support money to the parent who has sole or primary physical custody. The goal of child support is to benefit the minor children, allowing them to have all the basic things parents should provide.

In other words, moms and dads who are not living with or raising the child will be required to pay a set amount each month to the other toward the upkeep and care of the child. However, child support may also be ordered in joint custody situations as well. In these cases, one person will usually have primary physical custody of the child a majority of the time, and the other person will be ordered by the courts to make child support payments.

The child must usually be the biological child or the adopted child of the person ordered to pay child support. For example, even if a stepdad pays for the child’s expenses while married to the child’s mom, after divorce or separation, the stepdad will generally not have a child support obligation to the mom, unless there was a legal adoption because it was never their legal child.

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How is child support determined?

Child support guidelines are determined by looking at a variety of different factors, and child support formulas may vary from state to state. However, a court will typically consider the number of children involved, the custody arrangements, the wages and income of each person, as well as each person’s earning potential when determining child support amounts. Also important to the court’s child support determination is the amount of time the child spends living with each since they will be presumably caring for and providing financial support for the child during the periods of time when the child is physically with him.

What is child support supposed to be used for?

Child support is an amount payable by one person to the other to make sure that their child is cared for and shares in, to some degree, the standard of living enjoyed by both parents. The purpose of child support laws are to protect the child from the economic impact of divorce or separation. Therefore, child support should be used for both the basic necessities of the child, such as food, shelter, childcare, and education, as well as the additional things that the child enjoyed during the marriage.

Because one purpose of child support is to ensure that the child shares in the standard of living of both parents, child support may be used to improve the standard of living of the custodial household to improve the lives of the children. For example, if the child has a wealthy mom or dad, that child is entitled to and therefore arguably needs something more than the bare necessities of life.

Where the supporting parent enjoys a lifestyle that far exceeds the custodial parent’s living standard, child support must to some degree reflect that the supporting parent’s lifestyle. This is so even though, as a practical matter, the child support will incidentally benefit others in the custodial household whom the noncustodial parent has no obligation to support such as the custodial parent, the custodial parent’s new spouse, and the custodial parent’s other children.

Even where the non-custodial parent is not wealthy, child support money may benefit the custodial parent and anyone else living within the home, because child support payments can be used to pay for heat, electricity, cleaning supplies, travel costs and car maintenance, and other expenses needed to properly care for the child.

While the child should share the same standard of living as both parents, this does not necessarily mean that a custodial parent can make a huge financial decision for the child, and then force the non-custodial parent to share in the expense.

Having said this, because this determination will depend greatly on a case-by-case basis, a non-custodial parent should keep in mind that they cannot necessarily get out of contributing to an expensive decision made by the custodial parent. Take, for example, a situation where the custodial parent decides to send the child to an expensive private school which would likely affect child support expenses. In these cases, the court will look at the factors of each situation to determine who should pay what share.

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